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Then-U.S. Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack testifies during a hearing before the Senate Agriculture, Nutrition, and Forestry Committee September 21, 2016 on Capitol Hill in Washington, D.C.

Then-U.S. Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack testifies during a hearing before the Senate Agriculture, Nutrition, and Forestry Committee September 21, 2016 on Capitol Hill in Washington, D.C. The committee held a hearing on "The U.S. Department of Agriculture and the Current State of the Farm Economy." (Photo: Alex Wong/Getty Images)

Groups Launch Grassroots Campaign Urging Senators to Reject Tom 'Mr. Monsanto' Vilsack for USDA Chief

"Tom Vilsack has proven not to be the leader we need."

Andrea Germanos

Calling Tom Vilsack "Mr. Monsanto," a coalition of progressive groups launched a new campaign Monday to urge senators to vote against President Joe Biden's nominee to lead the U.S. Department of Agriculture.

The effort from Food & Water Watch, Progressive Democrats of America, RootsAction.org, and The Zero Hour points to Vilsack's time both as Agriculture Secretary under the Obama administration—and his record since then—as evidence Vilsack would elevate corporate interests over those of everyday people, climate-friendly policies, and a more just agricultural system.

"Tom Vilsack has made a career of catering to the whims of corporate agriculture giants—some of whom he has gone to work for—while failing to fight for struggling family farmers at every turn," Wenonah Hauter, executive director of Food & Water Watch, said in a statement.

Two broad problems underscore why Vilsack should not be allowed to reprise the role of Agriculture chief, according to the campaign:

Tom Vilsack is in the pocket of "Big Ag." As Agriculture Secretary he repeatedly capitulated to corporate interests over the needs of workers and small farmers. Vilsack ushered through a spineless GMO labeling standard rubber stamped by Big Ag, and sped-up the approval process for genetically modified crops. He allowed the meat industry to further monopolize—squeezing out small farmers—and scaled back oversight of poultry processing plants, permitting them to effectively self-regulate and thereby endangering food and worker safety. Immediately after leaving his post at the USDA in 2016, Vilsack became CEO of one the largest U.S. dairy lobbies.

Tom Vilsack also has an egregious record on matters of civil rights. At the end of his tenure as USDA secretary, Vilsack proudly claimed to have presided over a "New Era for Civil Rights at the USDA," but—according to the numerous civil rights groups and associations of Black farmers angered by his recent nomination—the truth was quite the opposite. An extensive two-year investigation by The Counter revealed that Vilsack's USDA misrepresented data to minimize persisting disparities and discrimination against Black farmers to deceptively portray its civil rights record in a positive light.

"America needs an Agriculture Secretary that will finally prioritize sustainable family farming and national food security over corporate profits," said Hauter. "Tom Vilsack has proven not to be the leader we need."

The campaign is calling on people to email their senators and flood their offices with calls on Thursday, January 28.

Other progressive groups and sustainable farming advocates voiced concerns last month when news emerged that Biden would be nominating Vilsack.

The chorus of criticism included People's Action director George Goehl, who wrote in an op-ed at the Guardian that Biden could have charted "a bold, new course for rural communities and farmers in America. Instead, Vilsack's nomination signaled more of the same from Democratic leadership."

Alan Minsky, executive director of Progressive Democrats of America, said Monday that the nation needs "an advocate for small farmers, a champion for civil rights, and a protector of the environment to lead the Department of Agriculture," but "Vilsack was none of these things during his eight years as Agriculture Secretary."

"We encourage U.S. senators to vote No on his nomination," he said.


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